This spring, if you found yourself wandering down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the names of men and women who altered the course of entertainment beneath your feet, there's a decent chance that you might have seen a loud, lanky twenty-something brandishing a contraption that looked like a broadcast tower crossed with a wizard's staff. If you did, I hope you smiled. You were on air, and, on a good day, 20,000 people were watching.
Hollywood Boulevard is no stranger to publicity stunts, but Ice Poseidon – Paul Denino, to his parents – stands out from its legion of two-bit street performers. Since 2015, he has quickly (though not quietly) become one of the most popular livestreamers in the world, after a niche start streaming an MMO. His YouTube channel is approaching 150,000 subscribers, and he has massive communities on Discord – an online chat room aimed at gamers – and a subreddit dedicated to his show. This year, he expects to earn in the low six figures, mostly from viewer donations, ad revenue, and a modest sponsorship from the North American gaming organization, Team NRG.
Ice Poseidon's "act" is simple: with a mobile broadcasting rig of his own design, he streams several hours of his conspicuously eventful life almost every single day. He calls the genre "life streaming," and his Twitter brands him as its "god." At its best, life streaming blends improv, reality TV and situational comedy; look closely, and you can catch glimpses of everything from Punk'd to Cops, and maybe even an Allan Kaprow Happening or two. Last week, Ice and some friends set up an impromptu speed-dating booth on UCLA's campus and waved down coeds with the promise of free candy. It was a classic Ice Poseidon setup, meaning it was mostly an excuse for him to crack jokes at his guests' expense, mocking their majors, hometowns, and appearance – a roast in real time. Ice & Co., none of whom have any affiliation with UCLA, kept the act up for around 30 minutes before campus police demanded they leave, citing complaints about "hate speech" from students.
About that. There's no way around the fact that much of what goes down on Ice Poseidon's stream is in poor taste. At UCLA, Ice corners an obviously uncomfortable student and tries to debate with them about women's rights, a flimsy prompt that quickly devolves into Ice dropping juvenile one-liners. When he later shares the video on Twitter, he describes it as "triggering liberals at UCLA." Ice's stream leans on shock humor, and even more so for its hyperactive chat (or at least a very vocal segment of it), a mire of "ironic" racism and misogyny that's extremely offensive. Ice knows it. That's the point, or part of it at least.
But Ice's viewers tend to either ignore or celebrate his flagrant disregard for decorum, something, they'd point out, comedians have been doing for centuries. In any case, as long as he isn't getting banned from streaming, what's "appropriate" is the last thing on Ice Poseidon's mind. What is on his mind is the seemingly limitless possibilities of life streaming – what it is, what it means, and what tools he can leverage to create something genuinely new. Like him or not, it's impossible to deny that Ice has succeeded at his goal beyond anyone's expectations, most of all his own.
When Ice began streaming on Twitch in 2015, he almost exclusively played the 2001 cult hit, Runescape. For viewers, the draw wasn't Runescape, a sludge of pixelated labor and commerce, but Ice Poseidon's boisterous personality, which could transform even the most banal interactions into digital theater of the absurd. Within two months, Ice was able to quit his part-time job as a line cook and live off the revenue from his stream. There's another world where Ice is still streaming Runescape, but the 2016 craze over Pokémon Go gave Ice the chance take his show on the road. From there, it wasn't hard to drop the pretense of gaming altogether. Life streaming was born.
Ice Poseidon is not the first life streamer, nor is he the only one. At any given moment, Twitch can connect you to dozens of performers, including garbage men and on-duty cops, broadcasting their day-to-day existence. But Ice is the unquestioned king of the genre, due in large part to his ongoing efforts to stay ahead of his competitors, technically and creatively. He experiments with his broadcasting rig almost daily, which has gradually become more complex. At first, Ice just used his phone, then a GoPro connected to an iPad; now, his latest MacGyver-esque contraption, a Sony point and shoot with a wide angle lens, wired to a 4G modem bonder, can output high definition video in real time. It's not perfect – dead spots are a recurring problem, and he's limited by the modem bonder's five hour battery life – but the quality is generally excellent, and, more importantly, it's light enough to be carried in one hand.
Ice is always thinking about new ideas for things to do on air, taking inspiration from documentaries, ghost hunting shows, and solo comedy routines. In January, he relocated from South Florida to Hollywood because he (correctly) thought there would be more interesting content for his stream. He drinks Red Bull nearly every day because it keeps him – and, by extension, his stream – in constant motion (he estimates that he walks up to 10 miles each stream). In short, Ice works hard because life streaming is hard work. Above all, he wants to see how far he can take life streaming – and, in turn, see how far life streaming can take him.
"Yo, what's up guys and welcome to my stream! How you doing?"
It's May 24th, 2017, and Ice has invited me join him on air for the afternoon. Currently, I'm sitting on his couch listening to Ice introduce the stream from the desktop computer in his bedroom. Ice lives here with his roommate, Voldesad (real name: Gray Shaw), a childhood friend and frequent on-stream guest. The two met playing Runescape more than a decade ago, and moved into their apartment – a handsome two-bedroom overlooking the Walk of Fame – this January.
Ice begins at his computer, updating his audience on two of the ever-evolving storylines in his life, which, together, lend the stream a sense of coherence between "episodes." One is the case of Cornbread, a friend and frequent on-stream guest who has been sleeping at Ice's apartment without permission. The other is Ice's ongoing love triangle between Halie Atisuto, a Twitch streamer also connected to Team NRG, and Geisha Montes, an actress who was also Miss World Dominican Republic in 2014. Ice met Halie in April, when the two travelled together to stream in Las Vegas. In true Vegas fashion, the two got "married" at the end of the night. Geisha, on the other hand, entered the picture after a chance encounter on the street in front of Ice's apartment.
Ice encourages his viewers to post their opinions on the pros and cons of dating each woman, which leads to a deluge of long text posts and hastily made memes on Ice's subreddit. It is, in effect, a soap opera, and Ice's fans are eager to weigh in on which woman makes a better fit for Ice. Halie has a child from a previous relationship and doesn't live in Los Angeles, but she's also been an emotional rock for Ice during some recent turmoil. Geisha, a professional model, is nearly a decade older than him. Ice has a date with her this very night and, amazingly, she's consented to having it streamed. It might not be love, but it's definitely "content."
After about 45 minutes, Ice shuts off his stream, having pushed two storylines forward. It's time to start life streaming, so Ice grabs his rig, and we head for the elevator. Inside, there's a sign prohibiting the use of recording equipment. Ice tells me that he was nearly evicted after a neighbor complained about him streaming in the elevator.
Once we're outdoors, we take off down Sunset Boulevard, heading west. Ice warms up by talking to passersby, asking for directions or where they're from; they're mostly mystified, but they play along. He trains his camera's gaze on a guitarist, giving the guy the biggest audience he's ever had. Ice is in his zone, doing what he does best. I, on the other hand, forget to take my lens cap off when I start taking pictures, a GIF of which later makes the front page of Reddit.
It's hot, and Ice is already thirsty. We step into Ciabatta Bar, a trendy farm-to-table café where he buys an almond milk smoothie. While we're waiting, Ice strikes up a conversation with the only other customer in the store, a long-haired man with a thick Australian accent. Within a minute, they're role playing a therapy session as Ice unloads his romantic woes. I check the stream on my phone. Chat is loving it.
With one smoothie in hand, it's now time for errands. Ice wants to do some fanservice, but he needs a customs shop to do it. There's a good one a few blocks away; it's got 4.5 stars on Yelp. Satisfied, Ice hails an Uber, and we get on our way.
"I don't have a personal life. My personal life is my stream."
THE PURPLE ARMY
More than anything else, Ice credits the success of his stream to its emotional realism and the strength of the connection between him and his audience. Every fan I talk to says the same.
"I don't have a personal life," Ice tells me. "My personal life is my stream."
It's true. Ice is transparent to a fault with his viewers, talking openly about everything from his finances to his relationship with his parents. Consequently, his fans feel personally invested in his life. They celebrate his successes and commiserate with his failures. For regular viewers, Ice's stream starts to feel like a much more exciting bonus life. Therein lies the heart of the Ice Poseidon show's appeal: it's everyday life in a funhouse mirror, making everything normal seem novel once more.
Over the last year, Ice has slowly introduced a motley crew of characters whose lives are fodder for new storylines. Alongside Cornbread, Voldesad, Halie, and Geisha, there's "Victor the cameraman," "Mexican Andy" and, weirdly enough, the ex-MTV personality Andy Milonakis, who Ice met by chance in the online military simulator, Arma 3. Ice frequently invites fans on stream as well; just as often, they invite themselves – it's not as if Ice's location is private, after all. Some have even become regular guests.
In that sense, it's impossible to talk about Ice Poseidon without also talking about the Purple Army, the online community Ice has taken great pains to cultivate. Most days, Ice does an on-stream "Reddit recap," browsing recent posts and selecting his favorites. Over time, this has built a lingua franca for his fans. Anything perceived to be less-than-optimal is "scuffed" – Ice's fans, for example, call his perpetually embattled manager from Team NRG "scuffed Steve Jobs" – while "cx," an unorthodox smiley face popular in Runescape, is a kind of secret handshake that marks one as an Ice Poseidon fan.
It's no exaggeration to say that Ice Poseidon's stream is, in many ways, a collaboration between him and his community. The "interactive" dimension of Ice's stream places him in a much longer history in broadcast media that dates back to well before internet livestreaming. In her forthcoming book Watch Me Play, T.L. Taylor notes that as early as the 1970s, television producers were devising ways for audiences to affect content in real time. The game show format TV Powwww (1978) allowed viewers to call in and issue commands for an primitive on-screen videogame, a precursor to Eurovision and Big Brother today. Then and now, the appeal of quasi-interactive television is its ability to blur the boundary between the viewer and the viewed, heightening the audience's sense of immersion in the program. Ice Poseidon's stream takes this feedback loop to an extreme. A week after my visit, Ice permanently broke off his relationship with Halie. In an emotional stream later that night, Halie says "[Paul] told me that the community voted for Geisha, and that's why we can't be friends anymore."
There's a dark side, in other words, to the sense of closeness that Ice cultivates with his viewers. Feeling as if you're part of someone's life can quickly start to seem as if you have control or even ownership of that life. Dealing with fans who take their passion for their favorite streamers too far is an ongoing problem for many performers. But when it comes to a life streamer like Ice Poseidon, the stakes can be much more dire.
"Who are we dealing with? Who's fucking with us?"
When we pull up to the customs shop, Ice jumps out of the Uber, abandoning what's left of his smoothie. He strides past a totaled white Maserati and into the shop. He's interested in getting his car wrapped with an image of TriHard, a Twitch emote based on the face of Mychal "TriHex" Ramon Jefferson, a Twitch streamer known mostly for speedrunning Nintendo games. The emote is particularly popular on Ice's stream, where it's conventional to post it en masse whenever a black person enters the frame.
While they're talking, a half-dozen employees gather behind the counter. None of them have ever, ever skipped leg day at the gym. They're staring at Ice's broadcasting rig, but, for the most part, they remain silent. The atmosphere is tense. But Ice and the owner settle on a timeline for the unusual request, and we leave the shop.
Outside, Ice immediately starts coordinating his next escapade. His viewers want him to go to Skid Row, which contains the largest concentration of homeless people in the country. He doesn't like the idea – he's got almost $10,000 worth of gear on him – but chat won't let it go. One of them even offers to give us a ride, but Ice says he's too far away. I hear the door open behind us.
"Hey, you fucking faggots!"
It's the guys from the customs shop; they're surging toward us, and quickly set up in a loose arc around Ice and me. Their de facto leader – he's about 30, with a close-cropped black beard, ripped skinny jeans, two full sleeves of tattoos, and an Ed Hardy-esque shirt – confronts Ice. (This and later conversations are transcribed verbatim from the plentiful videos of Ice's stream on YouTube; however, because of the directional pattern of his microphone, not everything is audible. When necessary, I've supplemented the transcript with my own memory).
Ed Hardy guy takes the lead. "Bitch! People are calling my phone. You better make them stop before I knock your bitch ass out."
Ice holds his hands up. "Yo, we're doing a livestream. Sorry. We didn't mean for this to happen."
"Who are we dealing with? Who's fucking with us?"
"We're on YouTube. Sometimes the viewers, they call. And they say stupid shit."
Ice starts trying to explain to the guy what's happening, but it's not working.
"Come here," Ed Hardy's sidekick commands, pointing at his feet.
He's holding something in his pocket. Its outline looks an awful lot like a knife.
Ice jerks back. "No, I'm good."
"Come here, come here, come here! Let me take all the pictures you have."
Ice tries to explain that he's taking live video, not pictures. They don't get it.
"What's your YouTube channel?" Ed Hardy demands.
"How do you spell that?"
"Ice and then Poseidon."
Ed Hardy fiddles with his phone until he pulls up the stream. For a few seconds, he's just another viewer, one out of thousands watching this snafu in real time. I doubt chat is saying anything nice about him.
"Look at this stupid ass, bullshit fucking subscribers. This shit!"
Ice tries to apologize again. They're having none of it.
"This is a business, bro. I don't want to knock you out. Stop going live. You're being stupid."
The "walk" signal comes on behind us, and before they can say anything else, Ice beats a hasty retreat across Sunset Boulevard. I slink after him.
"Guess I'm not going to get the car wrapped," he says once we're out of earshot.
THE SULTAN OF SWATTING
When Twitch formalized "IRL" as a genre in late 2016, it was a callback to the site's origins as Justin.tv, one of the first user-friendly live streaming sites. In 2007, founder Justin Kan brought wide attention to the site by broadcasting his life 24/7 using a backpack laptop connected to a webcam. Though some users (including a deployed soldier in Iraq) tried to copy Justin Kan's gimmick, most simply broadcast from their desktop computers, hosting talk shows and live video blogs. Streaming media made it easier than ever before to connect with audiences, sparing broadcasters the hassle of encoding and uploading videos, à la YouTube. But it was Justin.tv's gaming section, Twitch.tv, that ultimately came to dominate the site. In 2011, Justin.tv spun off Twitch as a separate site, and, in 2014, rebranded around it entirely. Now known as Twitch Interactive, the company doubled down on its identity as the a place for gaming and restricted any content that was deemed not sufficiently game-related. Streamers, for example, had to ensure that a live gameplay feed and not, say, their webcam, took up the majority of their screen.
That stance has softened over the years, and the resurrection of life streaming is, in many ways, the logical endpoint of Twitch's trend toward permissiveness. The nature of good streamers is to experiment with their medium, which has led to brilliant flashes of creativity like Twitch Plays Pokémon or seebotschat. Novelty drives viewership, and up-and-coming streamers are always finessing their act to attract a larger audience. Often, that means toying with the boundaries of Twitch's terms of service. At some point, it became easier for Twitch to simply loosen the rules, rather than try to define every exception. In 2015, the company launched Twitch Creative; streamers were now free to broadcast everything from Pro Tools to oil painting. Audiences loved it. After that, all bets were off. These days, you can find everything from cooking shows to reruns of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood on the site. And, of course, life streamers across the world.
All live streaming runs the risk of the unexpected. For years, /r/livestreamfail has been collecting on-air blunders, whether it's in-game cheating, insensitive rants, angry parents, or wardrobe malfunctions. But life streaming courts controversy in a way that streaming from a bedroom cannot, and Ice Poseidon has been an object lesson in the difficulty of regulating what happens on air when streamers aren't tied to their desktops. Ice in particular has a supernatural knack for being in the right place at the right time – or, just as often, the wrong place at the wrong time. Providence cuts both ways.
In March, Ice accidentally streamed a man's suicide-by-jumping. The incident recalled one of Justin.tv's earliest scandals, when 19 year old Abraham Biggs killed himself on stream by overdosing on benzodiazepine in front of 185 viewers. Ice recognized what was about to happen and quickly left the area, but it was still obvious to viewers when the man jumped. A block away, Ice collapsed to the ground, inconsolable. In a very short stream that night, Ice revealed that he is a survivor of a suicide attempt. He also lets his viewers know that Twitch isn't going ban him; what happened was a terrible accident.
But it's not all chance. Ice is no stranger to temporary bans for scandals of his own making, intentional or not. Like most streamers, Ice generates income through a donation button that allows viewers to broadcast any message on air. Normally, streamers see these messages before they appear and can block inappropriate ones. But, last November, Ice was streaming from his pool, too far away to block incoming messages. A viewer took the chance to submit an extremely racist message, which appeared on stream, earning Ice a one-week ban. Barely a month later, at the urging of his chat, Ice asked for a young woman's number on air. But he forgot to mute his stream, exposing her contact information to thousands of viewers. The slipup led to a 45-day ban, which many saw as a Draconian response by Twitch – here playing judge, jury, and executioner – to the honest mistake Ice insists it was.
Still, it's the Purple Army – or a particular slice of it – that's responsible for many of Ice's most famous moments, which are not always his finest. The Purple Army has always been a rowdy bunch, but "IRL" streaming has empowered its most committed trolls in previously unimaginable ways. In April, while eating on air at a Denny's, a "fan" with a fire extinguisher sprayed Ice's table, shutting down the entire restaurant. Ice has also been a frequent target for "swatting," a practice in which a viewer calls in a fake threat to draw police to the "victim's" location. Swatting has been around as long as livestreaming – Justin Kan, in fact was a frequent target during his life streaming days – but Ice has probably been swatted more than any other steamer in history– 20 times in the last two months alone.
Inevitably, though, the police figure out that Ice isn't in danger; he's just a dude with a weird camera. Swatting is an inconvenience, but it's rarely a threat to his safety. The same can't be said for the times when viewers have called businesses that Ice visits. In April, while trying to charge his phone at a Pizza shop in San Francisco, viewers phoned in to "warn" the shop's owner about the danger his customer posed. Seconds later, Ice got thrown out. Two weeks later, while streaming in New Orleans, Ice tried to visit a local restaurant known for its hot wings. Before he can even order, the owner bursts through the front door and smashes Ice's camera. Minutes later, Ice tweeted: "they had guns and a gang of people show up when [the stream] turned off. Dude said he had murder charges so we booked it and luckily didn't get shot."
But nothing that ever happened on Ice's stream could compare to the events of April 28, 2017. Ice and Halie were travelling to the technology festival DreamHack Austin, and, while streaming in Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport, Ice revealed both his gate and flight number. After Ice and Halie boarded the plane, someone called in a bomb threat tied to Ice, temporarily shutting down the airport. Ice and Halie were forcibly removed from the plane and spent several hours in questioning before being released and given vouchers for a flight the next morning. The incident made national news, and was widely seen as the culmination of the last month's on-air hijinks.
Ice was furious. "You swat my house? Whatever, fuck you. You swat a plane? That's a whole other level!" he yells into his camera during a stream recorded in his and Halie's hotel room later that night.
"I'm scared as fuck to stream at DreamHack."
"This is my job. Livestreaming. Not destroying businesses."
Once we've put a few blocks between us and the customs shop, Ice and I take refuge in a Jimmy John's. As we approach, he tilts his camera down, trying to avoid showing anything that might give away our location. I get us some water, while Ice discusses what just happened with the stream. The general consensus is that Ice did nothing wrong because the customs shop didn't have a sign prohibiting recording. Satisfied, he begins debating his viewers about whether or not we should go to Skid Row.
The manager walks up to us; I'm half-expecting to get thrown out, but he just asks us to buy something. Ice is busy, so I pick out a bag of barbeque chips. While I'm paying, the phone starts ringing. The cashier picks up; it's just a to-go order.
Back at the table, Ice is asking his viewers to weigh the benefits of Skid Row ("better content") against returning to the apartment to talk about Geisha and Halie ("more feelings"). Out of frame, I'm shaking my head, trying to catch Ice's attention and convey my disapproval because I really, really don't want him to go to Skid Row.
The front door opens. It's two of the men from the customs shop, the Ed Hardy guy and his sidekick. Ice sees them first.
"Oh god, he's here. Oh god," he says, and looks intently at his phone, trying to avoid their gaze. They close on us.
"Your fans are completely screwing our business," Ed Hardy says.
Ice's brow furrows. "What are they doing?"
"We've got over 1,000 one star Yelp reviews in a matter of five minutes. Our phones are ringing non-stop. We're going to the police department. You're liable for all of this. It's your fault. This is illegal. You realize that?"
"It's illegal to livestream?"
"Yes. You came to our business, you trespassed, you did that. It's illegal. You want to see the Yelp reviews?"
Behind us, phones are ringing. The manager appears and tells us to get the fuck out of his restaurant.
We take up spots near where the customs shop guys have parked their car, a silver SUV with oversized rims. It's in the middle of the asphalt, impeding the flow of traffic.
"We're a family-owned shop and you fucking destroyed us," Ed Hardy says.
"No… it's. Fucking. Some people are just assholes in this world. I know you probably think I'm an asshole," Ice says, jabbing his chest. "But that's not what I wanted. I just wanted to get a car wrap."
"Look at this, man," Ed Hardy says, holding out his phone. Their shop's Yelp score has indeed plummeted to a single star.
"They're calling all our phone lines non-stop. You can't be doing that stuff, man. Someone's gotta be liable. It's not right. You can't do this to people's businesses."
Ice looks directly into the camera. "Some people in my fan base are fucking cancer, I get it. I know."
Ice won't make eye contact with Ed Hardy Guy. He looks at his shoes, then at his phone, reading through the flood of messages in chat. They range from the "walk away you fucking idiot" to "not liable at all learn your rights" to "tell him he shouldn't have threatened you."
The two guys from custom shop are pacing in small circles. They're still pissed, but whatever aggression they showed before has dissipated. Mostly, they seem frustrated.
"Your name is Paul, I'm guessing?"
"I don't know what to do. Some people just… fuck. shit. up. I feel so bad, because some fucking, couple assholes. You know what I mean?," he says in a bid for common ground.
"A couple? It's hundreds. We're getting nonstop calls."
They start arguing again over who is responsible for this mess.
"I also can't control every single person who's watching," Ice says.
"All this was caused by you," Ed Hardy counters. "You literally caused these guys to come and harass us. For no reason. We're real shocked. And you're still live!"
"I am still live, yes. I'm just recording everything!"
"Turn off your shit!," the other guy says, incredulous.
Ice checks his phone again. Chat is mostly telling him to stand his ground. Emboldened, he says "I mean... you also technically threatened me as well."
"With what? He had a pen in his hand," Ed Hardy says, gesturing at his friend. "You realize that, right?"
"No, you said you were going to kick my ass!"
"Nobody even attempted to touch you!"
They keep arguing until Ed Hardy asks Ice to plead with his viewers to stop calling.
"The people that are calling, they're not my viewers," Ice responds. "They're haters. And they're trying to fuck me over. That's what their goal is!"
"So if you have that type of hatred, why would you enter a business?"
"This is my job. Livestreaming. Not destroying businesses."
"They're doing it on our Instagram, they're doing it on everything. Non-stop right now."
"Well, because you're here now. And you're instigating. You're instigating it."
"We're trying to fix things with you."
"I mean, I know but…"
"Not cool man. This is … directly ruining our business. And it's nobody's fault but yours."
"I don't know if I'd agree with that."
"The police will. This is going to be a lawsuit. You realize that?"
"You're going to sue me? You didn't have any signs saying no recording or anything like that."
Ed Hardy asks Ice again if he'll tell his viewers to stop.
"You don't think I've done that?" Ice explodes. "You don't think I've said that? I've had breakdowns because people do this shit and I get fucked over!"
They start arguing about whether or not Ice had the legal right to stream when the manager of the Jimmy John's sticks his head out the door. "Can you, like, tell your people to stop fucking calling, man?"
"You see? Thank you! There you go." Ed Hardy turns to the manager and tells him that he needs to call the police.
Flanked and outnumbered, Ice concedes defeat. "Alright. Sorry dude," disappearing around the corner.
I'm left with Ed Hardy, his sidekick, and the Jimmy John's manager. No one's talking; we're all wondering why, exactly, we're still standing here. The guys from the custom shop look exhausted, their shoulders slumped and their breath loud and slow. Their next job, they know, is just beginning.
Ed Hardy guy breaks the silence. "You need to get away from your friend."
"I'm not his friend," I say. "I'm here to write about him."
"I don't care why you're here. Just walk away."
"He's going to get himself killed."
I have nothing to say, so I offer him my barbecue chips.
"Get the fuck out of here."
Around the corner, out of earshot, Ice is issuing a frustrated confessional into his camera.
"I don't know what the fuck to do. I can't do fucking anything. Live streaming in public is just... not possible. I don't know. I just wanted to live stream and have fun. That's all I wanted to do."
He turns around, realizing he doesn't know where I am.
"This is the worst day for this to be happening too! We have a fucking writer and reporter following us around. What do you think this story's going to say?"
THE GOD OF LIFE STREAMING
When I catch up to Ice, he's saying goodbye to his viewers. He's had enough with this afternoon, and he needs to prepare for his date with Geisha tonight.
After he shuts the stream off, Ice is uncharacteristically quiet. Finally, he turns to me.
"What do you think?"
I want to tell him that I think he has a death wish; Ice Poseidon may very well be the end of Paul Denino. The camera-smashing incident in New Orleans, that shit with the airplane, the swattings, the attempted suicide, and what's happened today – that's all in the last month. Does he deserve it? No, but the real question is whether or not he's enabled it. How much distance is there really between fault and blame? It's one thing to get threatened on stream once, but this is becoming a weekly occurrence for Ice. Would it be perverse to suggest that he's not just complicit in his "misfortune," but that he actually benefits from it? Whether or not he admits it, these misadventures are part of Ice's appeal for many viewers, even those who would never dream of calling in a bomb threat.
Ice's profile has grown dramatically since April, in step with the steady drip of scandals taking place on stream. Frankly, if Ice's face hadn't been plastered across every publication from Motherboard to Heat Street for all the "wrong" reasons, I doubt I would be writing this story. And as for the minority of viewers who call in threats, bomb Yelp pages, and everything else? They're just going to keep doing it. Because why not? The bigger Ice gets, the bigger their audience gets, too. But what's to stop these viewers from coming up with worse?
Believe it or not, the vast majority of Ice's fans really do seem to care and worry about his well-being. Many of them also wish the callers would lay off and let Ice stream in peace. But even if, in the event of a fight, hundreds of fans had called for help, would it really have made a difference? Ice could still be pulp, beat up, his broadcasting rig scuffed or smashed to bits. If that sounds melodramatic, consider this: when Abraham Biggs killed himself on Justin.tv in 2008, there were people laughing. They couldn't believe – or wouldn't admit – that it was real. Because of livestreaming's (let alone life streaming's) immediacy, we tend to see it as an authentic, even intimate, form of media. But I'm starting to think that livestreaming doesn't transcend the gap that separates the viewer from the viewed; all it really does is hide it. And maybe that's not such a good thing after all.
I don't remember what I ended up telling Paul.
BANNED, ON THE RUN
On April 30th, two days after the airplane swatting incident, Ice Poseidon was permanently banned from Twitch. The given reason was breaking Twitch's terms of service by leaking his location, a flimsy pretext given that Ice and every other "IRL" streamer had been "leaking" their location for months. The real reason was the obvious one. After a month of bad press, Twitch had enough; whatever viewership Ice brought wasn't worth the trouble that followed. (Twitch declined to discuss Ice Poseidon's case, citing a policy that prohibits them from commenting on terms of service violations).
For Ice, the problem can't be life streaming, because life streaming is his livelihood. The problem has to be the haters. To call life streaming itself into question is to fundamentally challenge the validity of a creative form into which he's invested his time, money, and, lately, physical safety. And make no mistake: Ice thinks of it as an investment, because he sees himself doing this for years to come. Life streaming's possibilities are, after all, exactly as large as the world itself.
Within a week of being banned from Twitch, Ice had a new home at YouTube Gaming, which was eager to host one of their chief rival's most popular streamers. Amazingly, almost all of his fanbase made the transition with him, a rarity for streamers who switch platforms. When Ice met with his new partners at YouTube, he made sure to list everything objectionable that might occur on stream. YouTube Gaming assured him that, short of grievous bodily injury or nudity, everything was fair game. (Reached for comment, YouTube Gaming simply stated that all streamers must abide by their rules and service).
Still, Ice has taken steps on and offline to prevent the kinds of things that contributed to his ban from Twitch from ever happening again. Offline, he says he's called nearly every police precinct in Los Angeles and explained his unique situation, which has limited the ability of callers to swat him. Now, when certain police officers see him, they're in on the joke. (That said, it's not a perfect system; one week after I visit him, Ice gets held at gunpoint by Burbank police on stream). Online, the moderators of /r/ice_posiedon are under explicit instructions to nuke anything that has even a whiff of a telephone bombardment. In the Purple Army's Discord channel, there are bots that instantly erase any message that includes the word "call" or "swatting." There's more Ice can do, and more he plans to do; he knows his livelihood may depend upon it. He could stream on a five-minute delay, coordinate with businesses in advance, or simply stay out of them entirely.
None of these options are perfect, though. For now, Ice's solution is to head for Europe, where it will hopefully be more difficult for the haters to ruin his stream. But the truth is that there is no form of life streaming that doesn't run the risks Ice Poseidon's stream lays bare. Indeed, the risks are inextricable from at least some of its appeal. Ice Poseidon is a genuinely gifted entertainer, and yet the effect of his talent – so far at least – has largely been to expose the grotesque limits of the genre he has pioneered, and maybe even the medium as a whole. Life streaming has transformed the entire world into content-in-waiting; it's too bad reality isn't as pliable as Runescape.
About a block from the apartment, Ice starts yelling at someone. By some wild stroke of fortune, it turns out to be Geisha Montes, heading home from work to prepare for their impending date. She's separated from us by Vine Street's five lanes, but that's no obstacle for Ice. He leaps into the street, dodging late afternoon traffic, and scrambles to the far side, where Geisha is laughing at his show of chivalry.
I hobble after Ice, clutching my camera. Safely across, he introduces me to Geisha. She's lovely. Standing next to her, he's smiling again. Honestly, it's hard for me not to smile, too.
When they start talking about tonight, I begin feeling very intrusive. I step away from them and find myself speaking with a homeless man we passed earlier in the day. I give him the bag of barbecue chips.
When I look up, Ice and Geisha have parted. He's already half a block away, his eyes focused on his phone. Later that night, at a restaurant whose name he manages to conceal from his viewers, he'll ask her on air if she wants to go to Europe with him. She'll say "maybe" tonight, and "no" later. But right now, Ice Poseidon is striding down the Walk of Fame. He looks like he doesn't have a care in the world.